LINCOLN – You don't have to make a splash to make it big in life. Some of the most important people get hardly any attention at all.
And with that pithy message, Lincoln High School's Valedictorian Michael Reeves bade his classmates farewell last night.
Yes, said Reeves, the teachers, coaches and mentors of LHS have played key roles in their academic lives, but so did the bus drivers, the custodians and the “cafeteria ladies.”
They're among the “unsung heroes” of life – the people who make the world civilized with steadfast devotion to unglamorous work and kind deeds that usually go unnoticed.
“You'll never see these people on TV because of the jobs they do,” said Reeves. “I'm here to encourage you all to be unsung heroes.”
Words of sage and celebratory advice were the order of the day as 222 members of LHS's class of 2011 picked up diplomas during ceremonies in the Field House at the Community College of Rhode Island.
At least a thousand people poured into the venue, festooned with balloons for the occasion. As the LHS band switched from some snappy Latin rhythms to the familiar, proud cadence of “Pomp and Circumstance,” the grads entered the hall through an arc of balloons matching their caps and gowns – white for women, blue for men.
“Wish wildly, live determinedly, believe boldly,” was salutatorian Bridget Sullivan's advice to her classmates.
Town Administrator T. Joseph Almond struck a much more serious tone. He quoted the famous line from President John F. Kennedy's inaugural speech, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” It's a simple, inspiring call to selfless service – and, to the detriment of the country, Almond said, the most unheeded message a political figure may have ever uttered.
The vitality of the nation is threatened by mass complacency in the face of dire challenges, Almond asserted.
Like the men and women who've been dubbed “the greatest generation” for their selfless commitment to the cause of World War II, Almond said he firmly believes the Class of 2011 will one day be called to rise to such an occasion. And he was sure that when the time comes, they will rise just as high, if not higher, than their war-era forebears.
“Stand together, get involved, and make your voiced be heard,” Almond said.
A string of other speakers took the lectern in the cavernous athletic center, including Schools Supt. Georgia Fortunato, LHS Principal Kevin McNamara, School Committee Chairwoman Elizabeth Robson and Student Council President Matthew Sorkin.
Quoting from the poet T.S. Eliot's famous “ Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” the superintendent said the central question of their future is cast in the poem: “Do I dare disturb the universe?” The turmoil Eliot alludes to is about being true to yourself and your concept of personal uniqueness, said Fortunato, and it's not always an easy path to follow.
But the need for individuals willing to disturb the universe is as urgent as ever, for the world is full of problems that have defied the tired solutions of business as usual.
“You have to be creative, you have to be brave,” said Fortunato. “It is obvious that the current way of doing things has not solved problems.”
As graduates of LHS, Chairwoman Robson said she was confident their local schooling had prepared them to become “lifelong learners in a global society.” The commencement is not just the end of high school, she said, but the beginning of another journey which would see many longtime friends go their separate ways.
No matter how far they travel, said Robson, a piece of LHS will always stay with them and the hometown fans will be rooting for their success.
So much of what you become in life, LHS Principal McNamara admonished the graduates, will be determined by attitude. It's the fulcrum upon which an adventure can pivot toward an ordeal.
But McNamara, who may know the Class of 2011 as well as anyone, didn't seem at all worried for them.
“You are the class of 2011,” he said. “You can do anything.”